By Kayode Ojewale
IN recent times, the spate of attacks on Lagos traffic managers has increasingly become worrisome. Officers of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, have been at the receiving end of various forms of maltreatments from some unruly armed security agents, errant and violent motorists, and other traffic violators.
Out of frustration having stayed long in traffic, some motorists atimes vent their anger on the traffic officers by throwing various abusive words at them. This is because the officers on duty may probably not have passed queuing vehicles on their lane in good time.
While managing traffic, these officers are saddled with the responsibility of also exhibiting high level of emotional intelligence in controlling their temperaments when frustrated and angry motorists spill out provocative words at them. That’s where their test of patience with all road users comes to play.
Just few days ago, a LASTMA officer, Mr. Kehinde Sonaike, was knocked off the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, and into the lagoon by an over-speeding reckless driver. The hit-and-run driver sped off with his vehicle having seen the gravity of his action.
It was reported that Sonaike was assisting a motorist whose car broke down when he was hit. Thank goodness he’s still alive to tell the story as he was lucky that the fishermen around there came to his rescue in good time. The General Manager of LASTMA, Mr. Olawale Musa, in his reaction to the incident said: “The incident just shows the type of people we have on the road and it also shows the danger and risks our men are exposed to everyday while on the road. It discourages our officials sometimes. Imagine you go to the road to assist motorists and not come back home. That man could have died if he had not got the intervention of those fishermen that came to his rescue. But we thank God he is safe.” This clearly shows the risks and hazards that traffic managers are exposed to while on duty.
In defence of these unarmed traffic controllers in Lagos and in view of the tragic occurrences that have befallen the agency in time past, many concerned Nigerians have called for more protective measures to be put in place for these officers against any form of physical attack or assault.
It will be recalled that last year, LASTMA suffered terrible losses of its officers to violent breaches of criminally-minded attackers. The officers died in the course of maintaining traffic laws. Official statistics in 2018 showed that 18 LASTMA officers were carelessly killed and 24 others were permanently rendered incapacitated and hence, disabled.
But lately, the narrative appears to have changed. The hunter is being hunted, as it were!
On April 24, 2019, a journalist, Mr. Emmanuel Aigbodega, was allegedly brutalised by some LASTMA officers at Maryland area of Lagos. He was reportedly accused of being in a vehicle which allegedly allowed a traffic violator escape. The journalist said he was assaulted and unjustly detained by LASTMA officials on grounds that he allowed a fleeing traffic offender evade arrest. He said when the traffic offender was manoeuvering his way on the road, the vehicle he was in had to stop to avert a collision and this led to the escape of the traffic violator.
Aigbodega said he was assaulted the more when these traffic officers heard that he works with The Punch newspapers. The muscle-flexing officers said the newspaper usually publishes negative stories about LASTMA.
LASTMA Public Relations Officer, PRO, Mr. Hassan Mamud, while reacting to the incident said: “We have been orientating our officials to stop such acts. We are taking them through a process of being polite and civil in dealing with members of the public.” Mr. Mamud added that the agency recently recommended 14 of its officers for dismissal due to misconduct, showing the agency’s zero tolerance for any misconduct.
He further urged anyone aggrieved by the approach of its officers to write the General Manager and expect the Surveillance and Provost Unit to promptly look into the matter and effect necessary recommendations. Nigerians have in strong terms condemned the alleged brutality of the journalist, saying those erring officers must be sanctioned.
In a follow-up action, LASTMA had invited the journalist to its Oshodi office to make his statement and complaint official. This is important for thorough investigation. Mr Musa, the Agency’s G.M., reiterated that their officers have the powers to arrest traffic offenders but have no rights to manhandle anyone. In his words: “…I have established that there is a wrongdoing on the part of my officers.
“I have established that the victim was manhandled; why it happened is irrelevant because our officers should never manhandle members of the public…We don’t joke with disciplinary measures and I must tell you that the officers are in trouble.”
While we commend the action of the LASTMA GM and PRO on this matter by not shielding these bad eggs among their officers, and not allowing the case to be swept under the carpet, we also urge them to fish out other black sheep who masquerade as truly committed traffic officers. These over-zealous officers must be brought to book to deter other officers from doing same.
Every LASTMA officer on the road is seen by the public as the number one image maker of the agency; so people will judge the agency by what they see, not by what they hearor read. What is said or written about LASTMA may not really matter or count in the long run; it is what the traffic management authority does that speaks volumes.